What do I do when I’ve made a mistake and it affects other people?
Oh man, it never feels good to make a mistake, and it’s even worse when your mistake affects someone else. The thing is, we’re human. We’re going to make mistakes. We’re going to misunderstand things, and we’re going to make assumptions that turn out to be wrong. The important thing is that we need to learn from our mistakes, and learn how to properly apologize when that mistake impacts other people.
Most of the time, a simple “I’m sorry” isn’t going to make the impacted person feel any better. I have a six-step apology that I think works pretty well.
- Acknowledge the mistake. Acknowledging a mistake seems easy, but it’s really difficult to acknowledge it in a way that ‘feels right’ to the person that is impacted by your mistake. Repeat after me: “You’re right. I should have handled that differently.” Watch your tone on this, as it can really easily sound snarky and insincere. Practice until you can say it and sound like you really mean it. “You’re right. I should have handled that differently”
- Provide your context, and why you now see that it was incorrect or incomplete. “I was acting on a certain set of assumptions, but I see now that I missed something really important. (say what those things are, don’t leave it too general) Again, this is tricky. It may sound like you’re just making up excuses for your mistake. That’s why steps 1 and 3 are so important.
- Share what you’ve learned, and how you’re going to work to not make that mistake again. “Next time, I’ll remember to think about what I missed this time before I act.”
- Try to make it right. Offer a few ideas of how you can help fix things, but keep in mind that it may be preferable to stay out of the way while others solve the problem. Have the conversation about what’s best for everyone.
- Don’t repeat the same mistake twice. There is nothing more frustrating than having to deal with someone who simply won’t learn from there mistakes. Don’t be that person. Find new and interesting ways to make mistakes, and then learn from those!
- Forgive yourself. All too often, people keep berating themselves for past mistakes that others have long forgiven or forgotten. Allow yourself to be human – to make mistakes, and to learn from them. Feeling guilty and beating yourself up for making a mistake isn’t really productive, and after a while, it can become self-indulgent. Learn, and allow yourself to move on. Otherwise, you’ll be setting yourself up to make more mistakes, since you’re too busy beating yourself up instead of learning anything.
Remember, everything will work itself out. Just keep learning from your mistakes and keep moving.
What do I do when I’ve made a mistake?
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